Making it easier… for everyone.

There exist many creative and potentially effective strategies to bridge South Madison to the rest of Madison but there are just as many limiting factors. Consider Eli Pariser’s discussion of political campaigning via cyberspace. Although his point is to highlight the various ways filtering information can help media direction towards a target market, what I felt was important was the strategies of the campaigns. Those who are harder to persuade are left out of the persuasion and those who are easier to sway, the ‘swing voters,’ are bombarded with political information; that is to say: those who are not interested cannot be persuaded.
South Madison is a large community that encompasses a great area. How much of the population is interested at all in South Madison’s reputation? Much of the community are probably less concerned about South Madison’s image and more concerned about winning the bread to feed a family. A common reason to not engage in community activities might simply be ‘not enough time.’
This is where technology might be able to step in. The internet makes it convenient to access resources and converse with others. The internet is fairly available in the present day and saves precious time. It is an indispensible resource. Why not turn this into an alternative to physical gatherings? Because South Madison is large, physical gatherings won’t garner enough people to represent the whole of the community. Congregating discussions online is a consistent method to share ideas, find interest groups, and gather support for a single cause as long as we simplify the platform to make it easy for everyone. “To communicate means… to make common.” Thus to communicate, as many people should be able to use it as possible. Narrowing our target audience is not an option.
What I believe is a good plan is to utilize the many libraries. Libraries are important because children must go there for books they can’t obtain at school. Parents who care about their children’s education will encourage trips to the library and the library will have computers. Not only should the web platform be advertised but the option of a physical means of communicating should also be available. Bookmarks are perfect in this setting as advertising media as are pencils, notepads, and even sticky notes on a giant bulletin board.
Additionally, colored coding is a great idea. If ideas must be categorized, they must also be visually coded until people can quickly recognize and associate a subject with its color. Different people experience different levels of cognitive dissonance and I feel like a good way to convey the same messages to everyone is to use generally indisputable visual cues. Colors are easily communicated and can be associated to photographs, to words, to subjects, and to motivations. When someone is searching for a certain something they know is color-coded, it’s easier to look for the color than it is to look for more complex markers. Even those who do not understand how to use the platform otherwise can do so by following colored directions accompanied by clear visual ideas. This engage the audience in what each individual wants to view and filter out the excess and irrelevant information.


Access, Skills, and Motivation Blog

I think human motivation and technological skills will play a major role as an obstacle for us during our project. I know that even just when brainstorming ideas for offline involvement we come across issues involving technological skills and getting people motivated. One example that we talked about was actually holding technology classes for the residents of South Madison. When discussing the possibility for these classes, we realized it would be kind of difficult to get people interested and actually come to the sessions. The very reason that we would hold the sessions would too pose as an obstacle. The fact that there are many people who are technologically inexperienced is an issue for us in using new communication technologies. I think the most effective area for new communication technologies will be for UW students. 

Issues such as broadband (Friedland) are issues that we cannot address as a class as they require legislative change in the form of a public mandate. I personally believe, at least in one semester, that this solution to the problem is not a feasible one. While some research focuses on racial and ethnic disparities in technology use (Pariser) I personally think it is more of a problem for young people vs. older people. I think that younger kids and adults are more likely to engage with the internet and have more intuitive technological skill than people from older generations. 

I also think, in agreement with citizen competence discussed in Kim’s article, that not everyone is talented or understands the same things. I think that will pose as a challenge for us in that we will need to address each different group of people in a different way so that we can be sure that we are successfully reaching each audience we are trying to get through to. 

In general, I think our strategies will need to keep technological disparities in mind and perhaps not even use new communication technologies in our attempt to reach South Madison Residence. Rather, we will use our new communication technologies to reach students and other members of the community that will bring their money and business into the South Madison area and help benefit their community that way. I think that small steps are the way to go in this process and starting with a specified target market will help us get off on the right foot.

If we do decide that new communication technologies are the best way to reach people in South Madison, I think we will still need to narrow our market and possibly focus on those people who are already somewhat acquainted with new communication technologies so we can play on their already existing motivation to use such technologies.  


To Go or not to Go? That is the Question

After learning about the wonders that South Madison has to offer, it confused me as to why the area was lacking popularity among university students and community denizens.  This shortage of community participation is due to motivation.  In this post I will discuss the obstacles that motivation creates towards our short and long term goals of bridging.

For students, there is a lack of knowledge and desire to go into South Madison.  This is the major setback in the attempt of bridging South Madison to the rest of the city.  With exciting culture and mouth-watering food, South Madison has so much to offer, however, students do not know about it.  When looking at Stroud’s article on selective exposure, she states that partisans both consciously and unconsciously choose to neglect information for multiple reasons.  Whether it is because of cognitive dissonance or the need for, these theories pertain to the situation in South Madison as well.  Stroud writes,” A need for nonspecific closure, or the need to find a solution without any regard for what the solution is, motivates a pattern of ‘seizing’ and ‘freezing’ in information seeking.”  This is why students are not making the short trip to South Madison.  They have everything they need right at their fingertips.  There is no need to break the cycle of complacency.  Students – and I do this too – have fallen into the same routine doing the same thing with the same people at the same time every single day.  They have frozen their need to explore and gain more information.  They have no motivation to enter South Madison and explore the wonders that it offers.

So how do we fix this lack of bridging?

I understand the past campaign strategies, however, in the grand scheme of things, they have not worked.  We cannot show students what South Madison has to offer and simply hope they show up.  There needs to be incentive.  There needs to be desire.  Our campaign strategy needs to change from just displaying the culture of South Madison to physically bringing the students to South Madison.  That is, we as Savor South Madison must make our name more known to students.  Whether it is by following more people on twitter or incentives on Facebook or simply bringing our friends to the restaurants in South Madison, students nee to initially take the trek out there.  Students must thaw off their frozen routines and information seeking processes.  Students must understand what South Madison has to offer by experience, not by knowledge.  We must use our technology and social media; however, we first have to have students know what is out there.  To do so, we have to have events that are fun and worthwhile.  We must highlight places in South Madison that would appeal to students.  We must highlight the actual food to bring the students in for the quality of food.  If we highlight these aspects of South Madison, it will become part of their frozen routines – it will be second nature.

Yes, the people of South Madison need to be bonded together, however, I think for this semester, we must focus mainly on the bridging of the university and South Madison.  We can use technology for the students – it is tougher for the community.  We must increase the knowledge of South Madison with the students by putting it right in front of their face.  Once they know about the attractions of South Madison, they will keep coming back for the culture and the fun and the environment and everything else that the community has to offer.  The university is such an amazing resource for South Madison just as South Madison is to the university.

Make it real. Make it fun.

A lot of the general discussion about the digital-divide simply focuses on the fact that primarily young users who are able to access the Internet readily, are exponentially better off than those who cannot or who were not born with the technology. Even in our limited discussions as a class thus far, the conversation seems to end at the fact that many residents on the Southside of Madison lack Internet in the home. “That’s it. Sad story, but that’s the way of the world.” Moreover, our discussions about how to combat this problem usually feel just as straightforward: “If we get these residents connected, we can begin to solve numerous problems.” However, in his article, which delves deeper in to the digital-divide, Eszter Hargittai complicates all of this. Hargittai explains that by controlling the variables that often end the discussion, age and education level, we begin to see more interesting and revealing trends.

The most notable conclusions that Hargittai draws, in terms of our project, are the effects that both race and socioeconomic standing have on people’s access, skill sets, and browsing habits online. Hargittai notes that: 1) minorities, specifically Latinos (a large population in South Madison), are remarkably less tech-savvy than their Caucasian and Asian counterparts; 2) once access issues are eliminated, socioeconomic status still has an effect on what content is viewed; and 3) spending more time online (with both aforementioned points considered) leads to a more diverse and useful browsing history, especially for males.

Let’s throw one more problem into the mix before we get to solutions. Stroud explains, in detail, how a psychological effect called Cognitive Dissonance Theory can negatively effect human participation and motivation. In our case, taking in to account Hargattai’s findings and their relation to the South Madison population, Cognitive Dissonance Theory would suggest that because our less informed and less connected target on the Southside is already at a knowledge disadvantage they will choose to tune out completely instead of taking the extra effort to tune in.

So, what can we do? I came to a rather hopeful conclusion from the readings by Pariser. First though, the solution starts with something that the Promotional team has already discussed. While we now know that the digital-divide is more complicated than originally thought, the answer is still in getting residents connected. I firmly believe that technology classes for residents would be paramount to making an impact. However, we now know that getting folks in to seats in the library is not enough. Hargittai informs us to structure curriculum in a way that would not only get people connected, but get them browsing for meaningful content and get them browsing often.

If that first hurdle (which is a humungous one, no doubt) is cleared. We can move to the words of Pariser.

“Going off the beaten track is scary at first, but the experiences we have when we come across new ideas, people, and cultures are powerful. They make us feel human. Serendipity is a shortcut to joy.” Prasier also notes, “Meanwhile, in the city of ghettos, some people get trapped in the small world of a single subculture that doesn’t really represent who they are. Without connections and overlap between communities, subcultures that make up the city don’t evolve. As a result, the ghettos breed stagnation and intolerance.”

Putting it together, I have come to realize that the key is merging the conflicting ethnic and socioeconomic groups. And a great way to do that is through food and family owned businesses. Sure, this just reinforces the whole reason why J676 exists, so what are the specifics?

By supplying content that is real and fun like the Culinary Crawl that the content team pitched, I believe will can connect with an otherwise uninterested or skeptic population. By putting a face on the neighborhood through the chefs, customers, and families of these establishments, not only outsiders but residents themselves will begin to take ownership and a sense of pride in their community.

We aren’t going to move mountains over the course of 15 weeks. But the best thing we can do is provide content on various channels that bridges those who are connected/savvy and those who are not. It appears that classes in the past have missed providing content that has no smoke screen. No feel of journalism, or research, or class work. By making the content real and just plain fun, folks who are otherwise sick of botch-job journalism and news reporting letdowns, we may actually be able to spark something big in that community.

The public is irrelevant?

I reviewed this YouTube video for a course last semester and after reading through Pariser’s ‘The Filter Bubble’, it struck as a side argument to this larger issue. The larger issue was identified as the information that is supposedly being searched for today by many users connected online is possibly not that free form. There are certain suspicions about where that information is presented, who it is presented to and where it is presented, changing across countries and societies.

The video is exploring the evolving world of new technological advantages and how the machines used on the daily basis are having a large impact on our lives. There is a lot of coverage about Google’s ability to follow users search history and then regurgitate that information in the form of side ads. I found that this event was something I noticed more and more in my personal online excursions and after reading the issues with the Chinese government’s security and deviation of internet it fell right in line. The idea that what we see on line is not at random and visible to anyone and everyone who opens their search engine of choice but instead strategically geared toward our demographic, specific locations, political views, cultural ties and so much more.

I was recently searching for a new iPhone cover and the next day the exact cover popped up on the side of my screen… creepy. The coverage on search results used for advertising users didn’t appear to me as truly needing the attention it was receiving until I experienced it myself. I thought about how harmless this was with the iphone and at the same time very noticeable to me. However, I started to think deeper about how this could have happened with endless other issues since I spend much of my time online, especially when looking up information.

Are we using the machines or are they perhaps using us? That is what the YouTube video is trying to ask through its explanation and exploration across the old and current web platform. Pariser’s article and other in this section are all discussing the different access that people have and the motivation that encourages them to seek out different information. Is perhaps that information not in result of us seeking but instead strategically presented to us, much like the iphone cover advertisements? Is what we see from day-to-day in the forms of ads and commercials original and unique or specifically directed toward specific consumers? If it is specifically targeting individuals based on their search results, is this bad?

Depending on the specific issue and context it could be detrimental. If it is similar to what Pariser is discussing with the different extent of news being shared that can be very misrepresentative of what the general public is aware of. This can give the government much more power than is perceived and lead us away from the democracy that is established. While this is a very cynical and far fetched side of such an issue it shows that these many new media extensions are perhaps not as understood as perceived.

“Ordinary men avoid trouble. Extraordinary men turn it their advantage.”

According to Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters’ lecture on Activism vs. Slacktivism by Professors Lewis Friedland and Mike Xenos, it is not so much a lack of technology that poses the biggest obstacle for communities of low socioeconomic status (SES) to engage in communication technology, but rather lack of skills in civic engagement and technology. We can assume then that this present topic of motivations, skills and knowledge is imperative to addressing the area’s fluency in communication technology usage.

While Pariser (2011) discusses technological challenges in-depth, I think that realistically, this is not the wisest route of strategy for increasing internet participation in South Madison. A large issue behind technological challenges is broadband, which Friedland holds, can be solved by a public mandate. We cannot do this. Friedland also proposes that in the growing technology of today’s linked-in societies, broadband does not pose so huge a threat to groups of low SES since the development and more recent affordability of the smart phone. In this way, Friedland says, African-Americans especially are largely able to participate freely online without the threat of broadband. To further support the decision to spend less energy on this particular issue, in a study of African-American women of low SES in North Carolina, Friedland found that huge disparities in technology did not exist as we might expect. They had computers, albeit of less quality, rather they lacked such skills necessary to utilize the technology to it’s utmost potential.

Hargittai (2010) sees some technological disparities, such as broadband, through a lack in internet skill instead of access to technology. A more recent study than Hargittai’s was released to the media on June 26, 2012 by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP). Participatory Politics: New Media and Youth Political Action, the study describes as the “largest nationally representative study to date of new media and politics among young people,” found that young people across racial and ethnic groups are engaging in participatory politics. Perhaps the most significant finding, African American youth reported sending messages, sharing stats updates and links, or chatting online daily at higher rates than any other racial/ethnic group.

And to argue against Pariser once more, the YPP study found that 96 percent of Caucasian, 94 percent of African-American, 96 percent of Latino and 98 percent of Asian American youth have access to a computer that connects to the internet.

So concerning the issues of technological challenges and variations in internet skill, it seems that it’s less of problem racially and/or ethnically, and more problematic in a generational sense. That being said, I feel as though our best tactic in this arena is our idea to have a technology class session. As members of the “Net generation,” we are perfectly capable of approaching a solution if age truly is the obstacle.

That being said, I feel it is most important to address the theories behind motivation and ability (mainly motivation) in order to assess their respective implications on our challenges and strategies, because it seems like the most realistic challenge of the three to solve (or at least move forward in) through the course of one semester. It is for this reason that I have outlined a much more detailed plan for changing the area of motivation than knowledge or skill. That doesn’t mean we should ignore the other two issues of technological challenges and internet skill variations. I feel like it does mean, however, that by identifying which challenge we can most drastically impact/solve with little intervention from the government or tax payers could be our most efficient route in beginning a campaign to tackle such issues while still achieving our strategic goals.

According to Kim (2009), these three schools of thought differ as far as defining what groups of people choose to participate, what groups do not and the reasoning behind it. Since the theories still exist together, we cannot act on one without considering the others.

1. The first argues the idea that American democracy functions solely on the opinions of the interested few while the rest (the majority of the American public) shy away from political interest or concern toward becoming politically educated. This theory is significant because it holds that the majority of the public do not care to process information deeply and do not have clear attitudes defined in regards to how they feel about the political process and philosophy. This argument also holds that citizens who are informed act on the information that supports their attitude. This may suggest a catch-22 conclusion that citizens who do not have clear attitudes about their beliefs do not care to seek out information and educate themselves. Paradoxically, it also means that strong, clarified attitudes (which logically then should produce a desire to become informed) do not necessarily promote in-depth processing of information, just a tendency to pick out information that supports those attitudes.

The challenge here is a populace less-likely to be persuaded to participate in communication technology, because the uneducated populace doesn’t care and the educated populace has already decided what they will hear.

2. The second believes that the democratic body maintains it’s rational legitimacy because the sum of the mass public’s awareness is greater than that of any individual citizen or demographic. This speaks loudly to those in favor of a free market system of thought referred to as “the marketplace of ideas,” arguing that each individual’s level of awareness and ability to determine truth so as to function as a democratic whole is utterly dependent on the extent to which the mass public’s awareness and knowledge is shared and disseminated.

Perloff (2010) gives an outline of the theory that explains using heuristics as an accepted theory to how we choose to make decisions.

Heuristic processing is linked with decisions that involve low-cognitive effort. In fact, the Heuristic and Systematic Model (HSM) of information processing posits that people will choose to process heuristically (low-cognitive effort) or systematically (high-cognitive effort) based on their level of motivation and the ability they possess to process in-depth. This school of thought makes a significant point for us to consider, because it implies how much people are willing to think critically about participation and information processes depends on how much they care and how cognitively capable they are at processing the information. Thus it would imply that education and encouragement/mobilization determine how much a community can participate.

This theory implies that people can be guided to process more systematically, which is beneficial if your message has strong, valid arguments. That way, people don’t just process through previously determined mental cues, but are open to persuasion.  However, the challenge in this case is what it takes to get people to gravitate to systematic processing. According to the theory of HSM, their tendency to do so is dependent on how much they care (motivation) and how capable they are of understanding the message (ability). We can persuade them to care all we want, but how realistic is it to think we can change inherent ability in a semester?

3. Kim addresses a third school of thought that supports both systems, referred to as citizen competence, which views the public as a conglomerate of small groups of people whose concerns lie with the issues each respective group, or issue public, deems most important. This theory says most members of the populace tend to be masters of one, rather than jacks of all trades. Once a topic moves outside the scope of a group’s particular specialty, interest is lost and therefore so is knowledge on that area.

If we are to assume this belief system as valid, one challenge could lie in the need for identifying, unifying and addressing each group separately with a message specifically tailored to their interest and related knowledge base.

With these theories in mind, it is important to look at the challenges to changing motivation, ability and knowledge. Stroud (2011) addresses why it is so difficult to change motivation: according to Cognitive Dissonance Theory, humans will rationalize certain decisions as being “good” decisions for a multitude of reasons. Thought to be an evolutionary adaptation to maintain our ability to make a decision when no logic exists to defend one choice over the other, cognitive dissonance describes man’s reaction to the realization that our behavior does not match our attitudes (belief systems). While it may sound trivial, the effects of this realization can not only be felt on a psychological level, but on a physical level as well. We don’t like when our cognitions and behavior stand in conflict because it challenges our self-concept: the idea that we are “good.” Cognitive dissonance occurs in the first of Kim’s listed theories as the elite populace who’s brains filter information to support their attitudes. That way, no one has to feel as though they potentially followed a mistaken line of thought/behavior. In the second theory, motivation to avoid experiencing cognitive dissonance could be seen as the reason for using heuristics. Perhaps cognitive dissonance appears in the third school as an avoidance of branching out to unknowns, where people have less confidence in their attitudes and are thus more likely to feel dissonance should they act on these attitudes before they are clearly developed.

Cognitive dissonance also says we would much rather change our attitudes than our behavior, which would apply to all of the theories in cases where the populace remains uninterested. If a group feels they are unable to understand an issue, they may decide it’s not important because that would take less effort than having to become informed.

There is, however, a solution to challenges related to cognitive dissonance. To reference the television series Boardwalk Empire, “Ordinary men avoid trouble. Extraordinary men turn it to their advantage. You and I have that in common.” ; )

Persuaders can use methods to purposefully invoke cognitive dissonance to work in the favor of the message. For example, the effort justification aspect of cognitive dissonance says the more effort we put into exerting any amount of effort–no matter how small–the stronger the attitude we will hold towards participating in such efforts in the future. An example of this was a weight-watchers study, which found new members who were told they had to pass a test to join the group were much more likely to stay in weight-watchers, lose more weight, and enjoy their time while doing it. Even when the test was completely unrelated, such as involving simple mnemonic devices, the evidence still stands. This would not be a difficult method for us to employ should we choose to teach a technology class. There are tons of other ways to invoke cognitive dissonance, but I am confident I have commented too much in this post as it is. Google it ; )

An Outside-in Approach to Increasing Social Capital in the South Madison Area

In just a few short weeks working in the South Madison area, it has already become quite apparent that the community is lacking in what Robert Putnam describes as “social capital.” There is a general lack of trust and communication within the community, evidenced by the lack of communication between community organizations in promoting this years Celebrate South Madison Festival, and by the conversations I had with residents at said event.

Putnam states that “human capital and social capital are closely related,” it is my belief that this point is especially apparent in the case of the South Madison community, where poverty and lack of educational resources hinder communication between families. Putnam observed that, “education has a very powerful effect on trust and associational membership, as well as many other forms of social and political participation.”

I should mention that at this point in my research I have only a very basic amount of knowledge on the educational and economic background of South Madison. However, having spoken to a representative from an area’s technical college on the subject, it is my understanding that providing an adequate education presents a serious struggle for many in the area. This undoubtedly could have a very negative effect on the social capital in the area.

Bridging the gap between the people in the area and increasing social capital in the area is a difficult task, but remains an important goal and thus an important question to examine.

Evidence has already proved a correlation between social media usage and the establishment of social capital. I believe this alone provides reason for us to believe it is important that we use sites like Facebook and Twitter throughout our campaign because no matter the economic situation in the area it is almost a certainty that many use whatever time they do have on a computer visiting these sites. However, the point that many of the families in the area have difficulty in accessing the internet proves that while important, social media alone cannot accomplish our goal of increasing social capital in the South Madison community.

It is my belief that the way Savor South Madison is best positioned to help in this area is by increasing outside perceptions of the South Madison Community. Negative portrayals of South Madison in the media have led to an unfair stigma that permeates the entire city of Madison, but especially the South Madison community itself. Media framing of the area as an unsafe community no doubt has a negative effect on the amount of trust people in the area have for their neighbors. It is my hope that we can provide some positive media and publicity for the South Madison area. If we can frame the South Madison community as an area rich in culture and delicious ethnic food, it is possible that we can pass this belief on to the residents of South Madison themselves.

This approach may seem indirect, but it is my belief that in order to increase trust between neighbors, the source must feel organic enough to avoid the negative feelings people may have toward a third party trying to force communication in their community. I feel that the credibility we have among our peers will allow us the opportunity to frame South Madison differently than it has been to date. It is my belief and hope that through this approach, we can increase pride in the South Madison community and create a sense of trust among its residents.